Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dan Fogelberg and Floyd Red Crow Westerman Pass On

Cancer has taken two famous artists from our midst recently. One was soft rock balladeer Dan Fogelberg. The other was singer/actor/Native American rights activist Floyd Red Crow Westerman.

Dan Fogelberg died Sunday after a long struggle against prostate cancer. He was only 56 years old.

Dan Fogelberg was born in Peoria, Illinois on August 13, 1951. The son of a high school band director (his father) and a pianist (his mother), Folgelberg was exposed to music at an early age. He joined his first band when he was only 14. He was later a member of the band The Coachmen, who released two singles in 1967. Upon graduating high school in 1969, Fogelberg attended the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois. It was there that Irving Azoff, manager for such artists as The Eagles, REO Speedwagon, and Steely Dan found him. Fogelberg soon found himself a session musician for artists such as Buffy Saint-Marie, Jackson Browne, and Van Morrison. He released his first album, Home Free, in 1972 to only middling success. It would be his second album, Souvenirs, that would put Fogelberg on the map. The album did fairly well and produced a top forty single in the form of "Part of the Plan."

While his next album, Captured Angel, did not produce any top 40 singles ,it did solidify his status as one of top artists of the soft rock/folk rock genre. During his peak period in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Folgelberg produced such hit singles as "The Power of Gold," "Longer," "Same Old Lang Syne," "Leader of the Band," and "Make Love Stay." Folgelberg's career slowed down after his 1985 album High Country Snows, although he continued to record and tour. His last album, Full Cicle, was released in 2003.

Soft rock not exactly being my cup of tea, I cannot say I was ever a huge fan of Dan Fogelberg. That having been said, I think there is no denying his talent and his influence. The sounds of Dan Fogelberg can be heard in the music of artists as diverse as Allison Kraus and Jonathan Coulton. His song "Longer" has become something of a standard at weddings. And his songs continue to be played on adult contemporary radio stations throughout the United States.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman died Thursday, December 6, from leukaemia. He was 71 years old.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman or Kanghi Duta (his Dakota name, literally "Red Crow") was born on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota as a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Dakota Sioux. As a child he attended the Wahpeton Boarding School. It was there that he met Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He attended Northern State College, South Dakota where he majored in Speech, Theater and Art. As a young man Westerman made a career for himself as a country/folk singer. His first album, Custer Died for Your Sins (the title taken from the book by Vine Deloria Jr.) was released in 1969. Westerman followed Custer Died for Your Sins with four more albums (Indian Country in 1970, The Land is Your Mother in 1982, Oyate, with Tony Hymas, in 1990, and A Tribute to Johnny Cash in 2006).

Although he started as a singer, Westerman is perhaps best known for his career as an actor. His acting career began with a guest appearance on MacGyver in 1988. he soon found himself in feature films, his first movie role being the father of Lou Diamond Philips in Renegades in 1989. His best known role would come in 1190 with the release of Dances with Wolves, in which he played Ten Bears. Over the years Westerman's film appearances would include the Shaman in the Jim Morrison biopic The Doors, Chairman Pico in Naturally Native, and Chief Eagle Horn in Hidalgo. Westerman also made several notable apperances on television. He was a regular on Walker, Texas Ranger and played a recurring character on Northern Exposure, The X-Files and Dharma and Greg. In choosing the parts he played on both television and movies, Westerman avoided playing any sort of Native American stereotypes.

Westerman was also active as an advocate for Native American rights. He often worked with the American Indian Movement. He testified at the World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg in 1992. He founded the Eyapaha Institute, a non-profit group which promotes the use of mass media as a tool to address issues of concern to indigenous peoples worldwide.

There can be no doubt that Floyd Red Crow Westerman was one of the most visible and most famous Native American actors of our time. His talent was considerable, as he played roles ranging from Ten Bears in Dancing with Wolves to Chairman Pico in Naturally Native. He was also a very talented singer and musician. Over the years he worked with everyone from Buffy Saint-Marie to James Browne. Westerman was no simple performer, however, as he was also one of the best known Native American activists. In fact, his work in both recording and acting was an extension of his activism. While I cannot say that I agree with every idea Westerman expressed, I must say I admire him for having the courage to espouse him. Indeed, my brother had the opportunity to speak with Westerman on the phone several times. According to my brother, Westerman was always a perfect gentleman, blessed with both intelligence and a great sense of humour. Talented and outspoken, I am sure he will be remembered for a long time to come.


Bobby D. said...

I felt very guilty when I heard Fogelberg died--I had always made fun of his music-- But he did have talent. You'd go to a wedding and they' d play "Longer" -- I even think they played that song in the Jack Nicholson movie "About Schmidt" when the daughter gets married in a cheesy ceremony.

Floyd, I remember from the Doors Movie, but vaguely. I will have to check him out.

Jim Marquis said...

I was a big Dan Fogelberg fan for a while back in the mid Seventies. "Part of the Plan" is definitely one of my favorite songs from that decade.

It was a shock to hear he died. Especially so young.